Jun Tanaka’s restaurant on London’s Charlotte Street is called The Ninth. It is, so he says, the ninth restaurant in which he has been involved. The others include The Capital, with Eric Chavot; The Square, with Phil Howard; and Le Gavroche, with the Rouxs, so it would be fair to say that he has a pretty thorough grounding in the art of classical French cooking.
It is a training he employs even when cooking Italian food, as his dish of venison tortellini with bone marrow and walnuts proves. A thrifty Italian housewife might traditionally have taken the leftovers from the weekly roast and blended it into a paste, perhaps with egg, nutmeg and a little cheese, then used it to fill pasta to be served in a simple broth. Tanaka takes a whole shoulder of venison on the bone, marinates it in red wine, herbs and a mirepoix of vegetables, braises it with the marinade and no less than two different stocks, then shreds the meat and mixes it with a fine brunoise of vegetables.
As he says, it is “all about depth of flavour. And texture. The venison keeps a much better structure when it’s cooked on the bone. I’ve always loved Italian
food: the pasta section in kitchens is one of my favourites, and braised meat with pasta is just super delicious”.
Tanaka’s filling is like a concentrated, compressed ragù, the marinade fortified with both white chicken stock and veal stock. The braising liquid is then fine-strained, reduced and split in half. Half of it is used to bind and flavour the meat, while the other half is for reheating the (already cooked) tortellini.
His recipe involves bone marrow at two different stages: grated into the venison mixture – “braised meat can be dry, so it adds moisture and succulence” – and cut into discs, heated briefly in the Chef Masterclass oven and used to finish the dish. “The best way to use bone marrow is to form it into a sausage and wrap it in cling film, then freeze it, so you can hold it easily while you grate it.”
It is an undeniably rich dish, but balance is important to Tanaka as well. His garnishes change with the seasons. At the moment, he uses petals of quick-pickled onion to cut the fattiness. “Chop some peeled button onions in half, then simmer them in a mixture of three parts red wine vinegar to two parts sugar for two minutes.” And he adds a few chopped, blanched leaves of cabbage “for texture and freshness”.
There is, however, one final French flourish he finds impossible to resist. As he heats the deep-brown braising liquid to finish the tortellini, he reaches for a knob of butter, whisking it into the liquid to add a final, shimmering gloss to his sauce, a process known as monter au beurre in classic haute cuisine. You can take the American-born, Japanese-British boy out of the French kitchen, but...
Venison tortellini, bone marrow and walnuts (serves 12)
For the braise
1 shoulder of roe deer on the bone (about 1.5 kg)
75cl red wine
20ml ruby port
2 medium onions, roughly chopped
½ head garlic
1 tsp black peppercorns
1 star anise
4 juniper berries
4 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
1 sprig of thyme
2l white chicken stock
500ml veal stock
For the tortellini
75ml olive oil
150g celeriac, finely chopped
100g carrot, finely chopped
100g onion, finely chopped
50g frozen bone marrow
25ml sherry vinegar
300g 00 pasta flour
3 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
To serve (per portion)
1 tbsp toasted walnuts, lightly crushed
3 x 0.5 cm slices of bone marrow
10g grated parmesan
1. Marinate the shoulder for at least 12 hours in all the braise ingredients except the stocks. Take the shoulder out of the marinade, pat dry and season with salt and pepper. Brown on all sides in a large saucepan, then remove from the pan, fish out the vegetables from the marinade, put them in the same pan and cook for five minutes. Put the venison back in the pan, pour in the red wine, port and spices and boil to reduce for 10 mins. Add both stocks, bring to a simmer, cover and cook in the oven for three hours at 180˚C. Take out of the oven and allow to cool.
2. Heat the olive oil in a medium pan and cook the celeriac, carrot and onion until soft, without browning. Season and reserve.
3. When the venison is cool enough to handle, remove from the braising liquid. Flake the meat into a bowl and add the softened vegetables and sherry vinegar. Strain the braising liquid through a fine chinois into a pan, then reduce by half. Reserve half the braising liquor in a separate pan and reduce the other half to a syrupy glaze. Add this to the venison and mix. Grate the frozen bone marrow into this mix.
4. Check the seasoning, and add more vinegar to the flaked venison if necessary. Mix again and spread the mixture 2cm deep in a container, refrigerate until firm, then cut into 10g pieces.
5. Using your hands, roll them into neat balls and reserve on a tray.
6. To make the pasta, put the flour in a blender and slowly add the eggs and oil until combined. Take out of the blender and knead for five minutes until the dough is perfectly smooth. Wrap tightly in cling film and rest in the fridge for at least one hour (ideally overnight), then cut in half and, using a pasta machine, roll out the sheet until just translucent. Punch out as many 5.5 cm rounds with a pastry ring as you can from the sheet. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough.
7. To make the tortellini, place a ball of venison in the middle of a pasta disc, slightly dampen the edge, bring the edges together to make a half moon shape and seal tightly, pressing out the air. Fold the two corners around your index finger and pinch together to seal. Put the tortellini on a lightly floured tray. Repeat until all the mix is used up.
8. To serve, cook the tortellini in boiling salted water for five minutes; in the meantime, slice the bone marrow and heat in the oven at 200˚C for two minutes, until soft. Drain the tortellini, then simmer in the remaining venison sauce for one minute.
9. Put the tortellini into a warmed bowl, add the slices of bone marrow, spoon about 3 tbsp of sauce on top, then finish with some pickled onions and blanched cabbage (see text), the toasted walnuts and the grated parmesan.
This is a web version of an article that first appeared in the April issue of Restaurant magazine, the leading title for the UK's restaurant industry. For more features, comment, interviews and in-depth analysis of the restaurant sector subscribe to Restaurant magazine here.